Buck Rock Tunnel: Portal to the past

BLM Forester Mark Lawrence outside Buck Rock Tunnel’s east portal, 1971. BLM photo.
Chinese laborers working on the O & C Railroad in the 1880s. California State Library image.

With the intention of encouraging settlement and development, Congress in the mid-1800s initiated numerous laws that opened access to public lands in the American West.

Among these were railroad acts, which granted loans and extensive tracts of land to companies in return for railroad development.

An 1898 map showing the completed railway route through Oregon. NYPL image.
West portal of Buck Rock Tunnel, July 2, 2019. BLM photo by Greg Shine.

It takes a dedicated hiker to reach the tunnel’s west portal site today.

An intrepid BLM forester, Mark Lawrence, rediscovered the site in 1966, and in 2014 the federal government purchased the surrounding land and added it to the BLM-administered Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

Mark Lawrence at the west portal of Buck Rock Tunnel in 1971. BLM photo.
Chelsea Rose (right) and Lisa Rice (second from right) address the archaeology field school students. BLM photo by Greg Shine.

On day two of the 2019 archaeology field school, faculty and students assembled below the west portal.

Midmorning, the director of the field school, Chelsea Rose, guided students through pedestrian surveys, where students methodically walked predetermined areas in search of above-ground artifacts.

BLM Archaeologist Lisa Rice giving metal detection instruction, July 2, 2019. BLM photo by Greg Shine.
(Left) Square nail found by archaeology field school students, July 2, 2019. BLM photo by Greg Shine. (Right) Historic whiskey bottle found by archaeology field school students, July 2, 2019. BLM photo by Greg Shine.
Lisa Rice displays an artifact found during the archaeology field school metal detection exercise on July 2, 2019. BLM photo by Greg Shine.

After acquisition of the property in 2014, BLM staff began studying Buck Rock Tunnel and quickly recognized the opportunities for public connection.

A BLM archaeologist conducts a LiDAR scan of Buck Rock Tunnel’s west portal, July 2, 2019. BLM photo by Greg Shine.
Rose and Rice with members of the 2019 archaeology field school at Buck Rock Tunnel trailhead, July 2, 2019. BLM photo by Greg Shine.

Today, 135 years after its construction ceased, Buck Rock Tunnel functions as a portal to the past.

Although never completed as a nineteenth century railway tunnel, it now actively connects networks of public agencies, universities, museums, and communities.

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